A New Musical
Walter Kerr Theatre, NYC, April 7, 2017
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes
Photos: Joan Marcus
Good news and bad news. The good news is there is a new musical on Broadway. Bad news, it is Amélie at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
Set in and around Paris and featuring a whimsical gamine looking for love, joy and all those good things, Amélie, A New Musical tries too hard to be charming. The earnest effort is all too evident, but the payoff is pallid and offers little Parisian élan.
We meet Amélie Poulain as a child (Savvy Crawford), imaginative and curious, examining the world through a spyglass. From the opening song, “Times Are Hard for Dreamers,” she claims, “I can see the world I’m dreaming all around me.” Because of a problematic heart, she grows up isolated, with distant and unloving parents (Manoel Felciano and Alison Cimmet), home schooling, no friends, except for her fish, “Fluffy,” who ends up in the river.
When she moves to Paris, Amélie, now played by Phillipa Soo, has grown into a shy, quixotic young woman. However, with a new flat and job waitressing in a Montmartre bistro, she remembers the opening song, “I might be a dreamer/but it’s gotten me this far and that is far enough for me.”
Soo, a Tony nominee for Hamilton, is a lovely Amélie, with a crystalline voice and looking piquant in designer David Zinn’s red cardigan, print blouse and plaid skirt (no beret). Unfortunately, she is given a forgettable and mediocre pop score by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen that does not take advantage of her talent, nor is she able to evince any excitement of young love in the city of light.
The book by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss) is a musical adaption of a whimsical 2001 film, Amélie, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant. Directed by Pam MacKinnon, the 100-minute Amélie, A New Musical, moves in a confusingly swift pace with a capricious cast of characters, with most cast members playing a few roles each. With musical staging and choreography by Sam Pinkleton, designer David Zinn’s set is a jigsaw puzzle of assembling— and re-assembling — various Paris sites. A small orchestra led by keyboardist Kimberly Grigsby is positioned in the balcony, and Amélie feels like a revved-up carousel whirling past bistro to railroad station to street.
Often with spyglass in hand, Amélie explores Paris, studying the characters in the bistro and on the streets, most with wacky stories of their own, and somehow a plot emerges through her imagination.
Certain characters stand out. Tony Sheldon (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) is Dufayel, an artist who paints a Renoir work over and over, stopping when he is almost, but not quite, finished. He brings an empathy to his sad character, and urges Amélie to take the risks in life. When Paris hears of Princess Diana’s tragic death, Amélie decides she will quietly do good deeds in memory of the Princess. The show’s one splashy moment comes during Diana’s funeral when, referring to Elton John’s tribute, “Candle in the Wind,” Randy Blair, wearing huge Sir Elton shades, azure sequined suit, and shoe lifts, delivers a crowd-pleasing “Goodbye, Amélie.”
Amélie finally finds love: Nino (Adam Chanler-Berat), a strange young man who works in a porn shop and hangs around photo booths, collecting ripped-up photos people have discarded and saving them in a scrapbook. Throughout the show, Amélie is questionably drawn to him and his collection of torn photographs. Don’t ask. When they do finally kiss, you won’t find it surprising that there is zero palpable chemistry. Their duet at the end of the show is “Where Do We Go From Here?” Where, indeed?
Despite Phillipa Soo and a capable cast, Amélie lacks that vital frisson of delight and never quite takes flight.